Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Recasting Writing Pedagogy as an Inclusive Practice in Teacher Education: Putting Universal Design to Work with 21st Century Composition

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Recasting Writing Pedagogy as an Inclusive Practice in Teacher Education: Putting Universal Design to Work with 21st Century Composition

Article excerpt

As teacher educators working in the area of literacy, our aim is to create environments in which future teachers can learn content, develop pedagogical practices, and conceive of the teaching and learning of written communication as equitable processes. Grounding this goal is the understanding that our graduate and undergraduate students, all future teachers, include some who may have disabilities, and that as future Pre-Kindergarten to twelfth grade (pre-K-12) educators, they will undoubtedly teach students with disabilities. Therefore, in our literacy methods classes, we strive to model accessible, equitable, and inclusive classroom practices that we believe to be crucial to the learning of not only our students, but their students as well. In this article, we focus on practices in teacher preparation classes with the stance that these practices are instructive for working with all students in learning, composing, and writing, regardless of grade level.

While this goal is worthwhile, application proves challenging. School is a constantly shifting, often exclusionary site based on, among other factors, ability. Traditional literacy practices in particular--reading, writing, speaking, and listening--have long been used to establish normative standards, concretize class structures, and rank and sort individual students (Stuckey, 1991). Working in colleges of education charged with preparing teachers to teach and assess students' literacy practices, we find ourselves continually questioning our own complicity in pedagogical designs that reify concepts of ability/disability rather than interrogate and disrupt them.

We write this article from multiple positions, as professional writers, literacy researchers, teacher educators, and members of families with disabilities. We have both emic and etic perspectives on issues surrounding writing, disabilities, and education, and like other scholars, we are concerned about the relative absence of the disabled subject and the muffled discussion of disability issues within postsecondary education in general (Brueggemann, White, Dunn, Heifferon, & Cheu, 2001; Gabel, 2002; Matthews, 2009) and in teacher education in particular (Gabel, 2001). We are aware that we are among the "temporarily able-bodied" whose label of non-disabled is provisional, and we trouble the dichotomy of ability/disability (Brueggemann et al., 2001, pp. 369-371). From decades of lived experience, we have come to understand that literacy and disability mutually constitute each other (Holbrook, 2010; Reid & Valle, 2004).

A note here is important: We recognize that "disability" is not a monolithic description, and in our courses we address accessibility issues related to a variety of disability categories; in this article, however, we focus on how we respond to our specific students through a re-envisioning of literacy education through the lens of learning disabilities. Most of the students with whom we have worked and who self-identify as having disabilities describe them as learning disabilities, primarily in the areas of reading and writing. For this reason, when we conceptualize our teacher education courses as equitable spaces, we do so with reading--and writing-related learning disabilities in mind. That said, by employing educational concepts of Universal Design in our coursework--as described later in this article--we strive to create flexible activities that are accessible to all of our students.

Thus, we take the optimistic stance that we are in transformative times and that at the intersection of several emerging fields--arts education (Eisner, 2002; Reimer, 2003), disability studies (Erevelles, 2000; Thomson, 1997), and new literacies (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003; Leu, 2001)--we can redesign and rethink literacy instruction broadly and writing pedagogy specifically within a more equitable landscape. It is commonplace now for educators to comment on the digital revolution's impact on literacy development (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003; Leu, 2001; Wysocki, Johnson-Eilola, Selfe, & Sirc, 2004). …

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